Martian spots warrant a close look European Space Agency (ESA)

Are dark spots that appear near the south pole of Mars in early spring, a sign of life on the Red Planet? No-one can say for sure, according to a group of scientists who met at ESTEC, ESA’s technical centre in the Netherlands. But the spots are certainly fascinating, the meeting agreed, and well worth a detailed look by Mars Express, the European Space Agency’s Mars mission, when it goes into orbit around the Red Planet in late 2003. Agustin Chicarro, ESA project scientist for Mars Express, called the meeting after the spots began fuelling controversy here on Earth last summer. “As a geologist, I found the spots quite perplexing and very exciting. I wanted to tap a broad spectrum of expert opinion to decide whether they warrant closer examination by Mars Express,” he said.